The former Jarl Ulfric sank to his knees in the Palace of Kings. "Strike me down, Dragonborn. It will make for a better song."
"I think not."
Every eye turned to the gruff Redguard. Ignoring the attention, the warrior carefully took a scrap of fabric to his blade, cleaning it quickly before sheathing the weapon. He crossed his arms and calmly met the shocked gaze of the Nord.
"Well, if you don't do it, I-"
"Don't." The Dragonborn raised a hand, and General Tullius ceased drawing his sword in shock. "It will still make for a good song."
"And why ever should I care?"
The Redguard turned his unnerving blue eyes on the general. "When the night is dark, cold, and full of terrors one reaches for a song to keep you warm. When a man goes to take action, he sings of his heroes to convince himself he is doing the right thing, that his ancestors will approve. You should very much care what the Nords sing when they think of this rebellion, and whether they sing of this at all." The Dragonborn, with eyes betraying his Nordic ancestors, glanced once down at Ulfric. "A simple execution among his men like a common soldier is hardly a heroic ending."
General Tullius nodded curtly, motioning for the seizure of Ulfric Stormcloak. "Secure him. Keep a constant guard. No slip-ups or you join him on the block."
As Ulfric was dragged away, the iced-over eyes followed him.
"Perhaps they thought him dying of grief in his cell was a better end to the tale?" a voice rasped in the dark.
"That doesn't make sense. Wait, no he's stirring."
Ulfric opened his eyes, and immediately sprung into a sitting position, grasping at his hip for the confiscated sword. Three figures stood before him in his cell. One casually leaned against the wall in black, shrouded armor. The closest to him crouched in dark leathers. Another stood against the bars of the cell, one ear twisted to the hall.
"Yes," purred the third voice. "His instincts are passable. He may perhaps survive among you, should he so choose."
"What is going on?"
The third continued as if he had said nothing. "This one hopes he will go with you. He will not hide well among the caravans."
"I repeat. What is going on?"
The second snickered. "Not the brightest candle however. I wonder if stepping outside the law has ever occurred to him." He rose in a graceful motion. "Well come along. I did not brew all that sleeping potion for nothing."
The third swung the prison door open.
The first voice laughed, like a crackling flame. "The wonders of a little grease. Now follow."
"Listen, Bear. You have choices before you. You can stay, and die in your city, a failed revolutionary. Or perhaps you follow Khayla. Her people will get you out of the country and you live out the rest of your days in peace. Or you can follow one of us, and serve our organizations, helping Skyrim a little bit a time. It is not as glorious as leading an ill-fated battle, perhaps, but you will become familiar with who would've been your people in ways you could not have known them from your gilded palace."
The first sighed. "You were too easy with him, thief. He does not understand."
The third reached back and grabbed a hold of Ulfric. "Time for this later. He can decide when he is free. This one needs to move." With her paw around his collar, she dragged Ulfric out of the cell and into the shadows. Unnecessary, of course, as the guards lay about the prison. "Follow, assassin and sneak thief."
Ulfric stumbled a little in following. "I do not understand."
"Follow me," began the first, "and put knives and poisons in your enemies. Stop their corruption of your homeland. Follow him, and steal from your enemies instead, funding your own desires at the expense of the Empire."
"Besides, what is there to fail to understand?" The second was fiddling with a nearby lock while Khayla was listening to the door to the barracks. "You lost the war. You're up for execution. You can lose your life, leave the country, or work to fix her a little bit every day. What is so difficult to understand?"
Khayla turned to the three of them. "Finish speaking before we leave. The corridors will be filled with guards. We will need to be stealthy."
Ulfric looked at his hands. "Why did I lose? All I wanted was to preserve Skyrim, preserve her culture."
"Times change, Ulfric," the first began. "Skyrim was already changing. The world grows smaller each day, and you will suffocate the land you love if you try to stop her from changing."
"Who ever heard of the world getting smaller?"
The first one laughed while the second talked through his snickers, "Says the Nord being rescued by an Argonian, Dunmer, and Khajiit."
"If I leave with you, my men will still die, won't they?"
"A party of four is hard enough to hide in the shadows, but the Guildmaster insisted on giving you as many choices as possible."
"The Thieves Guildmaster I assume?"
The Dunmer chuckled. "Aye. And someone of high import to the Dark Brotherhood, too. He did some crazy thing to your past leader before ever showing up, right?" The Argonian nodded. "I think you already met him, however. It was the Dragonborn who had you thrown in here, right?"
Ulfric stared in shock. "Why throw me in here only to have me escape?"
Before the question could be answered, Khayla jumped back from the door, drawing her sword. It opened on an Imperial guard, who opened his mouth in surprise only for his eyes to roll up in his head as he collapsed to the floor. A figure in all black stood over the corpse, a curved dagger dripping blood in one hand. Though the mask covered all but the figure's eyes, he was still recognizable.
"Because, Ulfric, I am writing a better song."
He seized the prisoner's collar and dragged him forward.